Low Back Pain

Up to 80% of Singaporeans experience low back pain at some point of their lives, but most cases are not serious or life-threatening. Find out more about the common risk factors, when to consult a doctor and lifestyle changes to manage low back pain.


  • Up to 80% of people in Singapore experience Low Back Pain at some point in their lives.
  • Most cases are not serious or life-threatening. The vast majority improve or recover in about 6 weeks with self-management without needing to see a doctor.

Other possible symptoms 

As Low Back Pain is a symptom and not a medical diagnosis, these are other symptoms that you may feel with Low Back Pain:

  • Back stiffness and soreness
  • Pain worsens with coughing or sneezing
  • Weakness, numbness or tingling down legs 

Common risk factors

  • Sitting, standing or bending for a long time
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Overweight
  • Repetitive activity (e.g. frequent heavy lifting)

When should you consult a doctor? 

Consult a doctor urgently if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Change in urinary and bowel control
  • Numbness or tingling sensation over your legs or private region

Consult a doctor early if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent pain from an injury
  • Fever or night sweat
  • Pain which does not improve after rest or pain medication
  • Swelling, redness or severe pain affecting multiple joints
  • Any loss of function (e.g. Unsteady walking, weakness, worsening balance)

How long does recovery take?

  • Most Low Back Pain recover in a few weeks with self-management. For some, it may recur over time
  • These can help you return to your regular activities
    • Understand your pain
    • Make appropriate lifestyle changes
    • Set right goals
  • Certain Low Back Pain may persist and require regular management (e.g. back strengthening exercises)

Lifestyle changes to prevent / manage Low Back Pain

  • Refer to leaflet on “Self-help tips to manage pain”.
  • If getting out of bed is difficult, try turning your body to the side and you may use your arms to lift your body up into a sitting position.
  • Carry things close to your body when lifting them.
  • Exercise can help to relieve LBP1. You may start with simple aerobic exercises, such as walking or aqua aerobics, to improve movement and function. Your pain should not get worse with exercise.
  • Do self-directed stretches and exercises regularly.

Self-directed stretches and exercise




Frequently Asked Questions

“Should I rest in bed the whole day when I have Low Back Pain?”

  • No. Complete rest in bed is not recommended. When you avoid movement, your body generally becomes weaker. Some gentle activities can help in your recovery.

“Can I exercise if I was told that I have degeneration/wear and tear in my back?”

  • Getting older does not directly cause Low Back Pain. Degeneration or wear and tear are common age-related changes. But research shows that these are not strongly related to Low Back Pain2.
  • Exercise will not worsen the degeneration/wear and tear. In fact, it will help to strengthen your muscles and protect your joints better!

“Do I need any imaging?”

  • Most back pain does not need imaging as changes related to wear and tear are commonly seen and are not always the cause of pain2.
  • X-ray findings often do not fully explain back symptoms, and may cause unnecessary fear and anxiety.
  • If your back pain persists or presents with other symptoms, your doctor may advise further imaging such as X-Rays, CT scans or MRI.

“Do I need a specialist?”

  • Most cases of Low Back Pain do not need specialist treatment. Injections, surgery, and strong medications do not usually cure long term Low Back Pain.
  • Your doctor will only refer you to a specialist, e.g., an orthopaedic surgeon if necessary.

“Is it true that I have to sit straight to prevent any Low Back Pain?”

  • No. It is a myth that a “straight and upright” posture is the best. There is no single best posture to prevent Low Back Pain.

“My back is often sore at the end of a day’s work. How can I prevent this?”

  • You may need to modify your activities or work environment. It is often how the person performs a certain activity that results in unnecessary stress to the back, causing soreness. Specific instructions on how to modify activity or work environment can be provided by a doctor or therapist.


In most cases, your pain should improve in 6 weeks. See a doctor if your pain worsens or if you have any of the symptoms stated in the “When should you consult a doctor” section above.

Support networks / Useful links


One-Rehab Musculoskeletal Workgroup (Jan 2023 - Dec 2023)

Musculoskeletal Physiotherapists from Public Healthcare Institutions 


  1. Rahman Shiri, David Coggon, Kobra Falah-Hassani, Exercise for the Prevention of Low Back Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 187, Issue 5, May 2018, Pages 1093-1101, http://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwx337 
  2. Brinjikji, W., Luetmer, P. H., Comstock, B., Bresnahan, B.W. Chen, L.E. Deyo,R.A,., …& Jarvik, J.G. (2015). Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. American journal of neuroradiology, 36(4), 811-816. 
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